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Ninth Street Women

Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art
Narrated by: Lisa Stathoplos
Length: 39 hrs and 14 mins
4.7 out of 5 stars (16 ratings)

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Summary

The rich, revealing, and thrilling story of five women whose lives and painting propelled a revolution in modern art, from the National Book Award finalist.

Set amid the most turbulent social and political period of modern times, Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating chronicle of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of 20th-century abstract painting - not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they worked, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and countless others to come.

Gutsy and indomitable, Lee Krasner was a hell-raising leader among artists long before she became part of the modern art world's first celebrity couple by marrying Jackson Pollock. Elaine de Kooning, whose brilliant mind and peerless charm made her the emotional center of the New York School, used her work and words to build a bridge between the avant-garde and a public that scorned abstract art as a hoax. Grace Hartigan fearlessly abandoned life as a New Jersey housewife and mother to achieve stardom as one of the boldest painters of her generation. Joan Mitchell, whose notoriously tough exterior shielded a vulnerable artist within, escaped a privileged but emotionally damaging Chicago childhood to translate her fierce vision into magnificent canvases. And Helen Frankenthaler, the beautiful daughter of a prominent New York family, chose the difficult path of the creative life. Her gamble paid off: At 23 she created a work so original it launched a new school of painting.

These women changed American art and society, tearing up the prevailing social code and replacing it with a doctrine of liberation. In Ninth Street Women, acclaimed author Mary Gabriel tells a remarkable and inspiring story of the power of art and artists in shaping not just postwar America but the future.

©2018 Mary Gabriel (P)2019 Hachette Audio

Critic reviews

"These individuals are brought to life by Pulitzer Prize finalist Gabriel, who shows how each defied social convention and professional boundaries to create new creative forms and attain equality with their male counterparts.... A must for modern art historians and enthusiasts." (Library Journal, starred review)

"Ninth Street Women is like a great, sprawling Russian novel, filled with memorable characters and sharply etched scenes. It's no mean feat to breathe life into five very different and very brave women, none of whom gave a whit about conventional mores. But Ms. Gabriel fleshes out her portraits with intimate details, astute analyses of the art and good old-fashioned storytelling." (Ann Landi, Wall Street Journal)

"Gabriel delivers an immersive group biography of eclectic, free-spirited painters who shocked the art world in the 1940s and '50s with abstract expressionism...Through the lens of these women's lives, Gabriel delivers a sweeping history of abstract expressionism and the postwar New York School, and an affectionate tribute to the underappreciated women of America's avant-garde." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

What listeners say about Ninth Street Women

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    5 out of 5 stars

Unexpectedly astonishing

This was recommended to me by my tutor on the OCA painting degree because, looking at a photo of the Ninth Street, New York School of Art, I thought it wasn't a school so much as a bunch of like-minded men who spent a lot of time in bars and cafes and I asked where all the women were. I wasn't looking forward to reading it and when I saw that the Audible version was 39 hours long, I really wasn't looking forward to having it pinning my ears back for such a very very long time. It looked endless. So now I'm eating the hat I haven't got because while this is very definitely art focused, that's essentially the vehicle for an understanding of the politics, the place of women, and the life styles of people like them and the ones around them from the early 1900s to the death of the last surviving woman artist of the group in 2011. They lived every kind of life; rich and poor, drunk and sober, drugged and clean. They were promiscuous and adventurous; they travelled, they saw wars and some of the men fought in them. Lives of excess and of near starvation. Critically, and running through all of this is the recurring theme of whether women could be artists at all, never mind good ones, world-leading ones, or innovators. So often they were subjugated to their partners - the likes of Jackson Pollock and Bill de Kooning - and denied exhibitions in their own right. But they were also fighters; women who kept going against the odds, often picking up their drunken, debilitated men folk at the same time and propping them up long enough to make another painting. It reads as an exotic time; unique and with all the flamboyance of youth that never quite died even as they did. My impression of this book, and my engagement with it is influenced hugely by the narrator, Lisa Stathoplos, whose style carries drama without acting, gives life without over-blowing things, and never over or under emphasises any phrase, word, or even syllable. I know more now about this period of time, its social and political context, than I ever would have discovered or had any drive to discover otherwise. So art or no art, it was a revelation. I suspect those of us born later than these women might have thought we were the first to be feisty and to start breaking into men's worlds with challenges about equality, but these women were doing that without a voice, without a movement, without even a word - feminism - to bind them to each other. Gregarious party animals as they all seemed to be, at root they were all insular when it came to doing what drove them most - their art. I'm very glad to have had this book nudged in my direction and more than happy to nudge it in yours.

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Fascinating, in depth and informative

An incredible in depth exploration of the women from the new york school of post war abstract expressionism.

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Super inspired

Im about 7 hours in, and its exactly what I need to hear as an artist right now. The accounts of artists lives through war and the great challenges of their era is timely and greatly supportive as we enter an uncertain era of our own. Plus fascinating insights into the intricacies of lives behind this work i have long adored. I find the narration easy to listen to and am enjoying it on audio contrary to other reviewers. Highly recommended.

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V v inspiring.

I listened as I worked in my studio. Inspiring and just to see these five women claiming their spots in art history. The book is great but the audio a bit rubbish, still worth the purchase though.

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Poor narration

The breathless, soothing reading came across as an attempt to give some false excitement to a boring story. She sounds like she’s trying to smile during her reading to make it cheerful. Her emphasis on the wrong words in a sentence was distracting. I was worried from the beginning that the writer wasn’t very serious when she said the story she had found out was so amazing it blew her mind so she had to write a book about it, and then she said she waited 20 years to begin. But it covers an important part of art history so I persevered for a while. I gave up because of both the reader and the cliche-filled, gossipy, confusingly written text. I may go back.

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  • D. Donohue
  • 20-05-19

Painful pronunciation issues!

So many names were mispronounced in this reading it had the effect of finger nails on a chalkboard. The director, producer, and narrator all failed this book by not doing their homework. The narrative was lively enough to keep me gritting my teeth until the bitter end, but Audible should pay me a credit for listening to this.

16 people found this helpful

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  • E.Sisto
  • 05-04-19

Great book, very important history.

This book is very important for how it fleshes out the history of the New York School. And it makes clear how essential, respected and courageous the women were. I found it very moving to learn especially about Lee and Elaine -how active they were intellectually with in that group of painters. The reader, however, was not up to the job. I knew some of the artists in the book and was surprised at how many of their names she mispronounced. Also at times she almost didn’t seem to realize what she was reading. Her tone was often trivializing. Not good. But the book is still totally worth listening to.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Judith
  • 29-06-19

Excellent book, narrator not so much

Ready to plunge into the mid-20th C NY art world? Then this book’s for you! It takes commitment to read such a lengthy book, but it brings the past to life, and you don’t have to be an art expert to enjoy it. These talented women bucked a sexist art world, a misogyny that only grew more intense as time went on. Gabriel is a fine storyteller. Stay with it, even if you have trouble with the narrator, as I did. Her nasality, misplaced inflections and mispronunciations grated. Unlike fictional characters, these were real people whose names deserve to be pronounced the way they themselves did. Don’t let my crankiness keep you away. It’s a great tale.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Jenny Jenkins
  • 22-07-19

Gave Up on the Audio Version

The story of these important artists is an important and interesting one. But the editing and the narration both fall short. Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and Elaine deKooning were extraordinary people — and intellectually tough as nails. The narrator here provides such a breathless, girlish tone to so many of their words, it is almost bizarre. Elaine dK talking about the size of a canvas is made to sound like a little girl talking about the height of the elephants at the circus: “it got bigger ... and bigger ... and bigger!” Has the narrator never heard how sophisticated New York women actually speak? The narration proved to be such a great disappointment that I shifted over to reading the rest of the book on Kindle— a great disappointment since this is a very long book and ideal for audio. And yes, as other reviewers have noted, some of the mispronunciations were ridiculous. Writers, try to readers and producers with a list of foreign terms and names and record how they are to be pronounced for their reference, if you can! The editor let down the writer and reader by not cutting the trivial fat, especially about the male characters, and by not structuring the women’s stories more economically. I now know way more details about Barney Rossett and other secondary male figures than any reader of a book on these women artists needs to know. Keep that spotlight on the women — the book is 900 pages or something, and we don’t need so many detours and fun facts! A writer often thinks everything they have found is interesting and wonderful and wants to include it all in the book. It’s the editor’s role to contain those impulses and remind the writer where to keep the focus. Disappointing and important at the same time — I hope the HBO series will inspire a shortened version of this book. And a different reader! I look forward to re-reading it then.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Art Maker
  • 15-05-19

Kay sirra, sirra

The story is familiar, and told from the perspectives of the women of the New York School, it bears revisiting, though there's inevitably a disproportionately wide spotlight on the men, yet again. The book situates art world developments within the greater social, cultural and political circumstances of the times, a plus. What's annoying here is the narrator's weak grasp on correct pronunciations of many European names - someone should have coached her in this regard. Her French is especially rocky. It injects the wrong kind of humorous note in the listening experience.

4 people found this helpful

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  • William
  • 02-11-19

Very poor recording.

The narrator sounds like she is reading under the covers in bed while the listener sits in a chair next to the bed. Very muffled. When I turn up the volume it’s painful to focus as the muffling takes shape and fuzzy buzz in front of the words that are now hard to focus on because the plosives beat upon my eardrums. I will be returning this book.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Teadye
  • 19-07-19

All around cringeworthy

Gossipy, foolish and mostly about men, clothes and how clean the fridge was. I almost fell over when the author assured us that Joan Mitchell’s boobs were more than big enough to bolster her self-confidence! And so on... Wow. Really disappointing on so many levels. Then there was the narration. Imagine an elementary school teacher reading Portnoy’s Complaint to a group of second graders and you’re pretty much there. Breathless E*Nun*see *AAA*shun and hyper-attention to punctuation coupled with misguided saccharine emphasis on random words... It took an act of will to finish this book. Thank heavens it’s over.

5 people found this helpful

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  • bayda asbridge
  • 20-09-19

Art history at its best!

This is a very good way to learn about art history in the USA and France in the 50s and the role of female artists during that time. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The writer researched her subject extensively and wrote about her subjects beautifully and with passion. I will miss listening to it now that it is over. As a female artist myself, i was very inspired and motivated. Well Done!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-04-19

A Gripping History of American Art

This is a spectacular history of American art . It’s focus being that of leading woman artists makes it that much more moving and important. All of the poignant stories show the struggle of woman to exist in society as other than wives and mothers. This is a quintessential narrative of how America became the center of modern art-

1 person found this helpful

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  • The Art Book Club
  • 10-03-19

Detailed and riveting

The author returns again and again to history to put these important women and their circle in context. Really entertaining and fascinating!

2 people found this helpful